Thursday, July 28, 2011

A little burlesque history

Oh my lovelies, I am so incredibly excited.  Ridiculously excited, even.   For the last few weeks I have been talking with Elsa Sjunneson (remember Elsa?) about her research in burlesque history and her own performance experiences within that same art form. And guess what!

She's agreed to be the Never a Plain Jane burlesque expert!

So without further ado...

Hello there, if you're reading this, it's because you might have an interest in burlesque. I'm your new expert. I hold a degree in Women's History, and am also burlesque performer spawn. I love my job.

When I tell people I work on burlesque history, I get a lot of interesting comments, but the most interesting is this - "Isn't burlesque an old art form? Do people even do that anymore?" and the answer, I am happy to say, is YES!
Burlesque has been around as an American art form since the 1860s, it was brought over from the British music hall tradition by Lydia Thompson, and began as theatrical productions which took gender and screwed around with traditional gender expectations. That is, in essence, what burlesque is today.

Lydia Thompson in her most famous costume from the burlesque "Robinson Crusoe." via Ixion Burlesque

Burlesque is an art form combining comedy, eroticism, feminism, gender play, and physicality. Burlesque is a demonstration of female sexuality, and a protest against the male power dynamic, while some people will tell you that burlesque isn't political, I'll argue that any time a woman takes her shirt off because she wants to, she's making a statement about herself, women, and her own power.
What isn't burlesque? Well, burlesque performers aren't strippers in a strip club. While we definitely believe in protecting their rights as much as our own, the ways in which we perform, the financial structures within our work, and the audience elements are completely different. Furthermore, burlesque is not something that you can watch in the movie "Burlesque" with Cher and Christina. Sorry, folks. If you liked the movie, you're within your rights as a consumer, but please don't misconstrue the art form with the film of the same name! Burlesque is clever, it can be funny it can be sexy, it can be dark and twisted.
So, what does burlesque look like now? Well, lets take a look at some youtube links!

Fair warning: some of these videos may not be considered safe for work

Lily Verlaine is a trained ballerina who performs in Seattle, WA. The performance embedded below gained her the 2nd runner up to the title of The Reigning Queen of Burlesque (Yes, we have a competition, it's run by the Burlesque Hall of Fame, and it happens in Las Vegas every year. This year I helped run the oral history project, and got to interview women who were performing in the mid 20th century!)

The woman who won the title of Queen is Miss Indigo Blue, the founder of the Seattle Academy of Burlesque! She and Lily are both Seattle people, and they are both members of my extended sparkly family. Here is Indigo's performance!

And here is my greatest inspiration - my mom, Paula the Swedish Housewife!

Every week I'll be writing about various aspects of burlesque - hopefully adding in youtube videos, because I believe that the best burlesque education involves watching people perform! Feel free to email in questions, and I'll even answer them! 

You heard her, darlings! Your burlesque questions answered! I know you have at least a few, especially after those videos.  You can e-mail them to me at Oh we are going to have such fun! Thank you, Elsa!

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